Nigerian Archbishop: Church in Britain Losing Its 'Evangelical Edge'

Britain's drift away from its Christian moorings is impacting its ability to support Christians being attacked in other countries, the Archbishop of Nigeria has warned.

Archbishop Nicholas Okoh made the comments during a meeting at Britain's House of Lords on Tuesday night where he gave a report on widespread attacks against churches in Nigeria.

Hundreds of Christians have been killed in targeted attacks by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram. The attacks have been concentrated in Nigeria's largely Muslim north.

On Christmas Day, dozens were killed when a bomb was set off at St Theresa's Catholic Church in Madalla.

Earlier this month, a suicide bomber attempted to drive his bomb-laden car into a church compound in Kaduna. When he was turned away by a security guard, he detonated his devices a few streets away, killing at least 38.

Archbishop Okoh said that people attending church services now have to be searched for weapons and bombs upon entry. Police also have to be deployed to guard church events. He said that the stringent checks had left some Christians feeling that they no longer want to attend church anymore.

Church leaders have met the government to raise their concerns over the level of violence and to plead for greater protection for Christians.

Archbishop Okoh said it had become "difficult to know who to trust" as the police and even the government has become "infiltrated" by Boko Haram.

"It is not strictly speaking Christians versus Muslims," he explained.

"It is a sect that has broken loose from control, and among the [mainstream] Muslims there are sympathizers of Boko Haram.

"Mainstream Muslims are as baffled and confused as others in Nigeria."

Meetings are taking place with Muslim leaders every three months but the Archbishop said they were proving "ineffectual" as the extremists "don't come within our influence."

He suspects that talks with Boko Haram would also be fruitless as their two main demands – the Islamization of the north and the abolition of Western-style education – are so "outrageous" that they cannot be accepted.

Archbishop Okoh stressed that the church was doing everything it could to prevent a return to civil war and respond peacefully to what he said were the deliberate provocations of Boko Haram.

"It is better to tolerate and endure in order to preserve Nigeria and save our people from the scourge of civil war," he said.

There is suspicion among Christians that some opponents of President Goodluck Jonathan are using Boko Haram to achieve political aims.

Questions are also being asked about the failure of the police to charge or try suspected attackers. Suspicions towards the police only grew after the escape of the Madalla bombing suspect while in police custody.

Archbishop Okoh said Nigeria could learn from the U.K.'s experience with terrorism during the troubles in Northern Ireland. The U.K. could also help root out sympathy for Boko Haram by assisting in the retraining of local police, he said.

However, the Archbishop warned that assistance from the U.K. has been made less effective as a result of the erosion of Christianity within British society and also, he suggested, within the church in Britain.

"Christianity must be brought back to the centre of the U.K.," he said.

"When that happens, then you would be able to provide leadership for the Christian world."

He expressed his shock over the treatment of Christians in the U.K., particularly the case of a nurse suspended for praying for a patient, and the conversion of former churches into apartments and mosques.

"If that is the situation here, the Muslims in Nigeria will be quoting it for us," he said. "They will quote, 'Oh, this is what is going on in Britain.'"

"Get your leaders, the bishops … they must be the people who bring Christianity back," he said. "When that happens then you have already energized all those looking up to you for leadership. Then we will be in a position to interact."

The archbishop further warned that Anglicans in Nigeria were being ridiculed because of the actions of the church in the U.K., particularly its softening attitude towards homosexuality. He said: "What is the Christianity you offer? Those of us who have roots with you … they label you as homosexuals … [They say] 'Oh, you belong to that church?!'

"We're losing our evangelical edge."

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